The Torah devotes the final parsha of the Book of Numbers to a trip down memory lane. As the Jewish People stand ready to enter the Land of Israel, Moses records the forty-two journeys (between one campsite and the next) that brought them through the desert. Why was it necessary to recount every step of the way?
Rashi illustrates G-d’s intentions with a parable. “There was a king whose son was ill, and they traveled a great distance together to find a healer. On the return journey, the king reminded his son of all that had happened; ‘here we rested,’ ‘here we shivered in the cold,’ ‘here your head ached,’ and so on.” The stops along the road evoked the king’s memories.
The story of how the Jewish people came to the Holy Land’s borders is one of spiritual growth, and the most notable moments occurred while they stood still, encamped.
When they set up camp, they built the Tabernacle, performed its services, and welcomed the Divine Presence into their midst. When the Jews traveled, they packed the Tabernacle onto wagons, where it waited for the next campsite. The campsites were where the events took place that molded the Jewish people. Yet unlike the king in Rashi’s parable, Moses counted the journeys between the campsites.
What is the message? A core Jewish idea: the destination of our Jewish journey is not a specific, ideal place. Instead, the journey itself is perfect. We are constantly on the move — always growing.
To travel, the Jews packed up the Tabernacle so that it became portable. When they unpacked again, the campsite was different, but the Tabernacle was the same again. This portability allowed them to transition from one stage of their journey to the next while keeping the Tabernacle and the Divine Presence intact.
When we devote ourselves to constant growth, we treat every challenge life gives us as a stepping stone to becoming more G-dly people. We understand that as good as we are now, there is something we can do better tomorrow. This approach weaves all our life’s moments into a single story of constant growth. We embrace change and react to every life event as if it helps shape us into the person we have always been becoming. This attitude links each event in our lives to one another in a single unbroken chain.
The Jewish approach is to always be taking another step closer to G-d. When we see ourselves as being on a journey, we can look back at the person we once were and see that, although we’ve changed in every way, we’ve been the same all along. That younger version of ourselves was different, but they were setting out on the same journey we travel now.